Florida is known for it’s plethora of dangerous animals; alligators, bears, sharks, snakes, and spiders. The Io (eye-oh) caterpillar needs to be added to this list. While not deadly, the sting of this caterpillar is unpleasant and there’s probably one located within 100 yards of your current location.
Commonly found in hibiscus bushes and crepe myrtles, the coloration of the Io caterpillar is interesting. It is mostly green, which seems an obvious type of camouflage. Then there is a bright red line bordered by white along the sides. The numerous spines with which the caterpillar is covered certainly are intimidating. Trust me, I got an up close look recently.
Two weeks ago, trimming a hibiscus bush without shoes on, I felt a stinging sensation on my left foot. Looking down I expected to see a wasp or hornet. To my surprise there was a green caterpillar on the underside of a leaf resting on top of my foot. I quickly kicked it off and ran inside. The sting was immediate and my instincts took me straight to the bathroom lifting my foot into the sink and running cold water over it. After a slight panic attack and a quick Google consultation, I began the recommended course of action.
Step one: take tape, place it on the sting, and rip it off in an attempt to remove any spines that remained in my foot.
Repeat step one a couple of times with a new piece of tape to ensure all spines have been removed.
Step two: apply an ice pack to the sting to reduce swelling.
Step three: apply cortisone cream to the sting.
Step four (not included in my research, but needs to be added): watch Netflix and chill to get your mind off of your throbbing foot.
Thankfully after an hour or so the stinging went away. I ventured outside to resume trimming, this time wearing shoes, and after a couple of minutes I saw another Io caterpillar. I immediately put down the trimmers, stepped away from the hibiscus bush and announced my retirement from my trimming duties effective immediately. Two weeks later and the bush is still sporting a mohawk. I haven’t had the courage to finish the job, but you can guarantee that if I find it in me to continue I will wear long pants, shoes, long sleeves, a hat and if I can locate one a bullet proof jacket. I’m not taking any more chances with an Io caterpillar encounter.